The Da River, soon to be flooded by the massive Son La Dam.


Vietnam's rivers are under threat from a massive hydropower development program. More than 30 projects are under development or at an advanced stage of planning to meet Vietnam's spiraling demand for energy. To make way for these projects, around 190,000 people will be displaced and many thousands more living downstream will be affected.

Vietnam’s first and largest dam, the Hoa Binh Dam in the North, had devastating consequences for the 58,000 mostly Muong people who were forcibly displaced. They were moved to locations far their homelands and provided with little compensation. As a result, about three-quarters of those who were displaced continue to live near the edge of the reservoir and are facing extreme impoverishment and food shortages.

The Yali Falls Dam in Vietnam’s central highlands, completed in 2000, displaced 8,500 people in Vietnam and caused severe impacts to the livelihoods of tens of thousands of people living downstream in both Vietnam and Cambodia. Studies have found many of those displaced do not have adequate cultivable land and suffer from shortages of food and drinking water. Villagers living downstream have faced health problems due to contaminated water and have lost possessions, animals and crops due to flooding caused by the dam. Compounding these impacts, Electricity of Vietnam (EVN) is developing a series of dams in both the Sesan and Srepok basins.

Vietnam's largest and most controversial project, the US$2.3 billion Son La Dam, will displace 91,000 ethnic minority people by the time it is completed in 2010. A recent study found that the resettlement program is already facing significant challenges, including a shortage of arable land and sources of income for the resettled people.

In addition to developing its domestic hydropower resources, Vietnam is keen to import electricity from Laos and Cambodia. With the support of the Asian Development Bank’s Mekong Power Grid plan, a number of hydropower projects in Southern Laos are planned for export to Vietnam. In June 2007, EVN agreed to undertake feasibility studies for two hydropower projects on the lower Sesan River in Cambodia.

International Rivers' Southeast Asia program is working to support the burgeoning Vietnam Rivers Network and to highlight concerns regarding Vietnam's over-reliance on hydropower to meet its energy needs.

More information: 

Visit Center for Water Resources Conservation and Development website.

Learn more about the Buon Kuop Hydroelectric Project in Vietnam on BankTrack.